Mind Over Miller: Rosie


Someone once said that a person is entitled to one great dog in a lifetime. Well we've had three. Two are long gone, but the third is Rosie.

My wife, Debby, and I have owned many dogsduring our 46 years of marriage, and they'veall been Australian shepherds. We've oftenhad two, and sometimes three, at any given time.

The name of the breed, incidentally,is a misnomer. It should be theCalifornia stock dog. The breed originatedin California as descendants ofBasque herding dogs that arrived inCalifornia during the Gold Rush. Theycame with their Basque herders andshiploads of sheep from Australia-hence, the name Australianshepherd. Australians are often miffedat the name, because it is inaccurate,and they are justifiably proud of theirown stock dogs, such as the kelpieand the Queensland heeler.

All our dogs have been good dogs.Someone once said that a person is entitled to onegreat dog in a lifetime. Well, we've had three. Two arelong gone, but the third is Rosie.

Rosie is beloved. She doesn't have the work ethicof our preceding great dogs, but she is still very special,extremely intelligent, and supremely kind. Shealso has the most powerful smile I have ever known ina dog.

Now, a lot of dogs smile. We've had several. It'ssupposed to be an expression of submission. ButRosie doesn't smile in submission. She smiles tocommunicate. She has three smiles. One is her Elvissmile, restricted to one side of her upper lip. It means"Hi!"

Then there is her questioning smile, involving a displayof just the incisors. People who don't know dogsoften duck out of the way, mistaking it for a snarl.

Finally, there is the full-mouth smile that exposesthe entire arcade, including all her molars-you know,like Julia Roberts. This smile, the most extreme I'veseen in a dog, means "I love you, I've missed you, Ihaven't seen you since bedtime last night, and life iswonderful and filled with joy."

We have raised litters of pups in the past, and Iknow we should have bred Rosie just to spread hergenes around. There are lots of good dogs around,but great dogs are scarce.

However, we got Rosie after I retiredfrom practice and found myself inan unplanned full-time lecture career.We haven't been home long enoughat a stretch to raise and train a litterlike we used to. So last year when shewas 9, I finally spayed Rosie. I'll regretthat decision for the rest of my life.

Half a year after neutering her, wefound that Rosie had a highly invasiveanal sac adenocarcinoma, with metastases.My wife and I wept. We havenever lost a dog prematurely. Theyhave all been 14 years of age or older.Rosie was not yet 10.

A friend and colleague, Dr. Jim Felts, insisted onsurgically excising the primary tumor, and anotherlong-time friend, Dr. Alice Villalobos, prescribed acourse of immunostimulants and nutraceuticals forRosie. An oncologist suggested that Rosie receive along-term course of piroxicam, an NSAID that hasbeen found to have some anticancer properties.

Half a year later, Rosie has never looked or feltbetter. There has been no palpable recurrence at theoriginal tumor site. One of my former practice associates,Dr. Sean McCormack, recently performed anabdominal ultrasonographic examination on Rosie,and the metastases were static.

I now can identify with the many clients in yearspast who were grateful to me for extending the life ofa treasured pet. Every day we have with this dearcreature is cherished, yet we know that someday,soon, we will lose her. Lately, the words of an oldcountry song about a man remembering his childhoodfriend, Old Shep, have been going through my mind.The last stanza goes something like this:

Old Shep has gone where the good doggies go,And no more with Old Shep will I roam.But if dogs go to heaven, there's one thing I know,Old Shep has a wonderful home.

Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker, and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member from Thousand Oaks, Calif. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his Web site at www.robertmmiller.com.

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